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World Cup: Nigeria’s Super Falcons, Canada trade tackles in Melbourne

Canada's veteran skipper, Sinclair, has however warned that the Olympic champions can beat anyone at the Women's World Cup.

Nigeria and Canada, who have met twice at the FIFA Women’s World Cup previously, will open their account for this ninth edition of women’s football’s greatest showpiece when they clash at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on Friday.

The match will kick off at 3:30am Nigerian time.

The Super Falcons’ delegation departed from their base – Hotel Sofitel in Brisbane – on Thursday morning, for the 100-minute flight to Melbourne, oozing confidence and a determination to sustain their impressive record against the Canadians at the biggest stage.

In their first FIFA World Cup meeting, in Sweden on 8 June 1995, both teams played out a 3-3 draw at the Olympia in Helsingborg, with Nigeria’s goals coming from Rita Nwadike, Patience Avre, and Adaku Okoroafor. This was after Canada had stomped to a 2-0 lead within 20 minutes. Both teams were eliminated at the group stage.

They met again in Germany in 2011 when Perpetua Nkwocha’s 73rd-minute goal made the difference at the Rudolf-Harbig Stadium in Dresden. Again, both teams were eliminated.

Canada had beaten the Super Falcons twice in friendlies before their latest encounter – a 2-2 draw in Victoria City in February 2022.

However, Friday, 21 July 2023 is a new day with lots of promises for both teams, with the Canadian girls carrying a big markup as reigning Olympic champions and having five players in their ranks with more than 100 caps at the international level: Christine Sinclair, Sophie Schmidt, Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley Lawrence, and Jessie Fleming.

Canada’s best performance at the Women’s World Cup was in 2003, when they lost the bronze medal match to hosts USA. When they hosted the competition eight years ago, they were bundled out by the USA in the quarter-finals.

The Super Falcons, who had a 15-day final training camp in Gold Coast ahead of this tournament, are in excellent spirit, having won their last four matches and brimming with an awesome winning mentality.

Most recently, they defeated the Queensland Lions FC 8-1 in Brisbane, after wins over Costa Rica (Mexico, February) and Haiti and New Zealand (Turkey, April).

The Super Falcons reached the quarter-finals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1999, coming close to the semi-finals after drawing 3-3 in regulation time, before losing on the golden goal rule.

In captain Onome Ebi, Nigeria has already scored a first at this World Cup. She is the oldest player at this competition, at 40 (35 days older than Sinclair), and is attending her sixth FIFA World Cup as well. She made her debut as a substitute during the game against the USA in 2003.

Nigeria will miss the services of key midfielders Rasheedat Ajibade and Halimatu Ayinde, who were sent off during the second half of Nigeria’s semi-final clash with Morocco at last year’s Women AFCON, and handed two-match bans. They served one of the bans in the third-place game against Zambia days after.

“We look forward to an interesting match. Super Falcons will not bother about any team’s pedigree at this World Cup. In each of our matches, we will play to win,” team captain Onome Ebi told thenff.com.

“Our target is high, but we want to take it one match at a time.

“The focus, for now, is Canada, and then we can plan and strategize for the next opponents after that. We are committed to making our country proud.”

‘Canada can beat anyone’
Canada’s veteran skipper, Sinclair, has however warned that the Olympic champions can beat anyone at the Women’s World Cup, saying: “This team is full of rock stars.”

Ranked seventh, they face a potentially tricky opening clash against Nigeria on Friday in a formidable Group B.

They will also meet co-hosts Australia and debutants Ireland in their bid to make the knockout rounds.

Sinclair, the all-time leading scorer in international football, warned against underestimating her side.

“We were overlooked heading into the Tokyo Olympics and showed what we can do,” said the 40-year-old forward, who has scored an incredible 190 goals in 323 appearances for her country.

“We can beat any team in the world. It’s contagious (winning), you want to do it again and it’s just motivated us to prove to the world what we can do again.”

Canada have qualified for every World Cup except the first in 1991, with a fourth-placed finish in 2003 the highlight so far. They were knocked out in the round of 16 in France four years ago.

They enter the tournament hosted by Australia and New Zealand after a disrupted build-up that saw them threaten to strike over pay, funding and contractual issues.

Injuries have also dogged them. Striker Janine Beckie, with 36 goals in her 101 appearances, is absent after surgery on a knee problem.

Veteran midfielder Desiree Scott and rising star Jade Rose are also missing.

Despite the absentees, Sinclair said: “This team is full of rock stars, full of class.”

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